Birds wheel singing over the Red Keep, riding the back of a westering breeze that takes the heat from the sun and leaves only balmy warmth behind. It is a crowded morning on the heights of King’s Landing, with everyone turned out to appreciate the fine weather. From the training lists comes the clashing of steel blades and the occasional shattering of wooden lances with an ever-present heartbeat of hooves, the pulse of the realm sounding strongly under the buzz and hum of conversation.
Any number of folk can be seen breakfasting outside the kitchens on meat pies or fruit, tankards of morning ale in hand, or cups of more temperate nature. Reyna Saltcliffe, clad in rosy silk and creamy lace, stands beneath the shade of a peach tree, nibbling a meat pie and conversing quietly with the shorter of her two looming guards.
Making her way through the southern yard, unaccompanied as so often is the case with her, is Aisling Ryswell. She does not seem to have a particular destination in mind, though her garb suggests that she may have come from the stables, and as she passes by the kitchens the pleasant smells wafting out of them slow her stride as she turns her attention that way for a little. Then she continues onwards, passing near to where Lady Reyna and her guards stand. She pauses then, inclining her head their way. “Good day, Lady Reyna.”
“Hallo, Lady Aisling,” Reyna replies, first swallowing and then handing the meat pie off to her guard with a dubious expression. “Come out to enjoy the fine weather? It’s a lovely day for riding; I rather envy that you look like you’ve been at it already.”
Seth Blackwood’s walk through the bustle of the yard seems similarly aimless, though that may have more to do with his lazy gait than true lack of purpose. Indeed, his ambling takes him from the western yard slowly but surely to the shade of that small orchard. Stopping by one of the nearbye peach trees, he looks up at that ripened summer fruit discerningly. Does he dare to eat it? Clearly, from the sudden snatch of a particularly well-formed specimen. Now he’s eating as he ambles, a touch of juice on chin and corner-lip. A sudden spying of the two ladies and escort catch him in his tracks, and he makes a quick move to dab at his face with a blood-red handkerchief.
After a brief but very necessary swallow, he flashes a smile that’s both quizzical and perhaps a touch chagrined. “My lady Reyna, my cousin Aisling. Good day to you both. How do you do?”
“Yes, I was just on my way back from the stables. I prefer to be out early, especially if it promises to be a hot day. My mare does not care for it any more than I do,” replies Aisling, and takes a moment to brush off a few strands of hay that had clung to her garb unnoticed until now. “The stallion, well, I gather he is used to worse from Dorne,” she adds then, though then she finds herself silenced briefly by Seth’s approach. A smile—rare in its ease—curves her lips as she inclines her head to him. “Cousin Seth, good day. I am well, and you?” Her Blackwood kin appeals rather more to her than her kin by marriage, it would appear.
Reyna nods, and is about to speak when Seth arrives and Aisling’s attention strays. “Good day, ser,” she says politely. “I do very well, thank you. Lady Aisling as been enjoying the fine breeze, as you see, and I have been envying her freedom.”
“Well enough, thank you,” Seth says with a polite bow of the head to each lady in turn. “I was just enjoying the morning breeze and the fruits of other’s labors.” Lifting up a peach, he flashes another swift, broad smile. “I would not envy _too_ much. It’s a fine day for a walk , or a ride, or a pause in the shade. All have their pleasures. How fares your lord husband, my lady?”
“You must be finding it a very pleasant morning, to have such a positive outlook,” Aisling remarks to Seth, just a little dryly. “Though I suppose there is no fault in that,” she hastens a little to add. Misery—or at least, pessimism—does not always care for company, it would seem. “Either way, I am not sure there is much to envy, Lady Reyna.”
Not far from the gathered three, a group of five young squires lounges idly. A basket filled with fruits and breads is between them—or rather, was between them, for now it is empty. All are blonde and all seem more than a touch lazy.
Standing near to them, arms folded across his chest, a larger golden-haired specimen watches while beating time against his elbow joint with a half-eaten apple core. A peal of laughter erupts from the group of youths, and the instigator is rewarded by a well-aimed apple to the back of his skull.
“Lad, it is impolitic to say such things about a lady,” says… Jonn Lannister? No, surely not. No, it is; for it could be no other.
A smile quirks Reyna’s lips. “I love to ride, and rarely have time for it. And I currently have the balkiest mare who ever trod earth, so riding is rarely enjoyable just now. She is improving by small steps, though not quickly enough for my taste.”
Then she turns to Seth, and her smile warms a bit. “There was a raven from him just this morning, at long last. It would seem that he is succeeding in his task, at least, and was well when the raven was flown.”
Seth’s smile widens a touch at Aisling’s dry remark, the sunny young lordling’s head bowing in deference to her appraisal. Looking to Reyna, the oddly sunny scion of Blackwood grants another brief smile. “Well, I do not doubt it. Any who’ve fought with the man know well enough that he could gamely take on most any task of war lain on him. Always good, though, to hear welcome tidings.” Perhaps he’s about to offer more than that little platitude, but the nearbye, the admonishment from that gossiping crowd of layabout squires catches the lordling’s eye and is enough to turn his head. Squinting slightly through the bright morning sun, he makes out Black Jonn. The smile that touches his lips now loses some of its brightness, turning subtle and dry both. After all, did not Seth use to _be_ one of those layabout squires?
The comments from the side do draw a glance from Aisling as well, and a hint of a frown passes over her pale features as she turns back to Reyna and Seth. To Reyna, she nods thoughtfully, saying, “It was frustrating to wait for Raven’s injury to heal, and now he is frustrated that I am only allowing him little steps ahead.” A brief pause, then she adds, “It must be difficult to only hear from your husband now and then. Though as Seth points out, he does seem to be a very capable man.”
“Nothing I am not accustomed to,” Reyna says to Aisling with a smiling shrug. “But he sends his ravens to the King, not to me. His Grace’s servants are but kind enough to share them with me.”
She follows the gazes of both Seth and Aisling, then clucks her tongue. “Gods, Jonn, can’t you abuse your squires in foul weather and stop mucking up the fair?” she asks.
“But you said—” the squire begins, before he is cut off suddenly by the Lannister heir.
“I said no such thing, boy. Now clean up this mess.” It could be a trick of the light, but he seems to give the lads a coy wink. With groans, the young Lannister cousins lever themselves up and begin to break down the picnic.
“You say abuse,” Jonn calls out to Reyna, “I say instruction.” He approaches the trio, giving nods all around. “Good day, my lady, ser,” he says to Seth and Aisling.
“Duty has, I suppose, a habit of commanding men’s attention,” says Aisling to Reyna, though she would hardly have much personal experience with the matter. Her attention is then shifted to Jonn as the Lannister heir approaches. “Good day, ser.” She returns the greeting a little warily, dark eyes giving the blond knight an appraising look.
Seth promptly returns the nod. “Instruction and abuse are not identical twins,” the Blackwood says dryly, “but close enough. Fraternal, maybe. And, like our royal line, more often than not married to each other despite it. How are you, cousin?” Still that slight smile hangs on, cool and polite now.
“My lord never lets personal matters interfere with duty,” Reyna says agreeably, a spark of pride in her eye as she nods to Aisling. She glances dismissively at Jonn’s squires before replying to him. “I didn’t know winging apples at squires was instructive, but I shall remember it henceforth.”
“There is much you do not know,” the Lannister says with a smile for Reyna.
“I am well enough, coz,” he says to Seth, turning the smile upon the Blackwood. “And yourself? I have not heard much from you since… the tourney, I believe.” He shrugs.
“I have found them too closely related for my tastes when it comes to the opinion of many knights regarding how a horse is best trained,” notes Aisling, and what she thinks of that—which is not well at all—is poorly hidden by her voice. With a flicker of irritation, she brushes a few more strands of hay from her skirts—clearly, she did not just fetch the horse in the stableyard—and manages something akin to a smile for Seth. “I am well enough. Especially after a morning spent away from the Red Keep.” That always seems to be her sentiment, though there have been a rumor or two the last days that suggest that she and her step-sister have gotten on even more poorly than before.
To Reyna, she then offers a nod in acknowledgment of her husband’s qualities. “The King no doubt appreciates him as much as he deserves, Lady Reyna.” Jonn again receives a thoughtful look.
“Mm,” Reyna says to Aisling, looking askance at the straw falling from the younger woman. She clears her throat and then looks up at all three. “I should be moving along. I’m promised to her grace’s service today, and I shall be late if I don’t go now. Good day to you all!”
“I’ve tended towards carrots more than sticks with my steed,” Seth admits with a half smile towards the lady of Ryswell. “So far, he’s treated me well enough despite the spoiling I give him.” At the mention of the tourney there’s a nearly imperceptible tightening of the Blackwood’s jaw, but his smile remains fixed as ever. “No indeed, I spent some time convalescing after that, and family matters have kept my hands busy since.”
“Good day, lady Reyna,” he says with an incline of his raven-haired head.
“Give the princess my regards,” the Lannister says to Reyna.
“I have never understood that practice,” he continues, looking at Aisling. “I have always been fond of my horse, though he is an intemperate brute.”
“Family matters,” he says with a nod to Seth. “I know exactly what you mean.”
If Aisling notices the look she gets from Reyna, her expression does not betray this. Instead, she offers a polite smile and a dip of her head in the other woman’s direction. “A good day to you, lady Reyna.” A brief pause, and then she adds, “I hope her grace is well enough, all considered.” Not, perhaps, what one would expect from the Ryswell.
To Seth, she then offers a smile in return. “I have more faith in carrots as well.” Jonn receives another look, as if she’s still not sure what to make of him. “I suppose even intemperate brutes, whether they are horses or not, can be wel liked.” On the matter of the tourney, she simply says. “We were certainly all very glad to see that you recovered fully. Uncle Henly was quite concerned, and my lord father expressed his worries in a letter once he learned what had happened.”
To Aisling’s kind words, Seth offers a good humored smile that has no doubt benefited from practice and repetition in the last few months since the tourney. “Thank you. I am as you see me, hale and healthy. And indeed, I was glad to hear that Ser Bonifer, after winning our tilt, went on to perform so admirably against Ardon Tyrell. His prowess throughout that day saved my pride some bruising, if not the rest of me.” He waves it off with seeming ease.
Turning to Jonn, he adds, “I’m sure you do understand above any, as far as the requirements of family, ser. Yours has grown considerably this past year, no? I trust all is well at the manse.”
“Indeed,” Jonn says to Seth, “the Seven have blessed us with two more. It is getting a bit crowded, truth be told.”
“Speaking of which,” he says with a small bow, “I must beg my leave. It is my day to keep watch over the twins.” His smile is broad as he speaks of his heirs, and he gives another bow before moving for the eastern yard.
“You will have to make it up to Ser Bonifer at the next tourney, cousin, by unhorsing him and then doing equally well for yourself as he now did. Fortunes do change quickly in the lists,” says Aisling to that, before Jonn’s parting words draw her attention to him. “A good day to you, ser,” she says, inclining her head to him as he takes his leave. Her eyes follow him for a little, then she looks back to Seth. “Have you had word from Raventree Hall of late, I wonder?” she asks.
“No doubt,” Seth says with an easy smile, whether he has doubts or not. There’s another polite nod towards the heir of the Rock, and Seth’s own eyes follow the departing Lannister’s figure thoughtfully. Some bit of unvoiced amusement passes over the lordling’s features before he turns back to Aisling. “You would be surprised what a serious injury will do for correspondence with one’s family. Between their worry and my lack of other diversions, I do not think I have ever been in such good contact with my family. All are well. My grandparents sit eternal, watching the world so carefully from their perch. My father is ever industrious… and mother is, well, mother. You should pay a visit soon, coz. I know they were delighted to see you at the Landing during the tourney, and would be glad to have your company. Though for a ride such as that, at least, I’d recommend escort.”
“Oh, Uncle Henly would not merely recommend that, cousin,” says Aisling with a dry chuckle. “In part because he would no doubt be glad to be away from King’s Landing for a time himself. Alas, though it has been a year since we made our little tour of the Riverlands, I daresay that objections would be raised.” A frown settles on her face for a moment, and irritation is revealed in the way that she brushes back a few stray hairs from her face. “Lord Ryger sometimes seems to think that he has supplanted my lord father as responsible for my well-being. Or rather, not strictly for my well-being, but it amounts to much the same.”
“Doubtless it’s only his proximity that makes him especially—careful, of you,” says Seth, with a careful smile and rueful tone. “I certainly know that Sarmion has felt such towards my sister Desmona when he took her on as a ward here in the City. I suppose it’s in part that they are not just guarding you, but their own honor as well should anything befall you. If not this year, then, perhaps the next. It is… also my hope that the Blackwoods will once again flock to the city for another celebration in a future not too terribly distant. So perhaps they will come to you before you pay a visit to them.”
“Oh, indeed. Lord Ryger is most concerned about his own honour, of that I am quite certain,” says Aisling, sounding ... less than impressed. “Considering his position, it is understandable, but it makes me no happier to be caught up in it.” A brief pause, then a shrug, meant to be dismissive but not quite succeeding. “It is as it is.” Though she does not sound terribly accepting. “For our own part, cousin, what do you see coming out of your stay here? A position at court?”
Seth allows himself a brief and nearly silent chuckle at Aisling’s estimation of the good councillor, but keeps a decidedly politic peace. He pauses thoughtfully at the next query, a moment’s pause and uncertainty before the Blackwood summons up another of his facile smiles. “Eventually, I would aspire to some office here. Though I’ll admit, I’m no courtier, trained or natural. Grandfather sent me to learn the ways of court as much as anything, I think—and to represent our House’s interests. With Lady Tinessa once again established in the King’s City, and my uncle Corwen coming and going so oft.” Another pause and then his smile turns entirely wry. “And I think my mother and grandmother both wished me here so that I might finally find a proper wife and put their hearts at ease. At least on that count I have hopefully made some small progress.”
A thoughtful nod from Aisling as she listens to Seth’s response and considers his words. “My father never seemed greatly concerned with what standing we had—or rather, did not have—at court, though it cannot have been the whole truth. Both of his marriages connected him outside of the North, after all.” Briefly pale features darken then, plagued with some troubling thought or other. Of her mother, or perhaps her step-mother, one might guess. “Certainly, for Lady Tilly it is a most pressing concern, or I would not have found myself here.” She almost cuts herself off there, and quickly changes the subject. “What of this progress, I wonder? Where does it stand now, if I may ask?”
“Oh, my family’s long had a keen eye for such things. Influence abroad can oft give advantage in more local disputes, after all” Seth says with another rueful twist to his lips. The Blackwoods in a local dispute? _Who_ could he be speaking of?!
“Anyway, one does not marry two consecutive Blackwood heirs to the daughters of Great Houses by _accident_. In truth, I am surprised they offered me the opportunity to seek out potential matches at court rather than simply arrange something. It may yet work out for all involved, though. They will get to marry their Blackwood heir into yet another of the seven great families, and I will… well. I will have my heart’s desire in the matter.” That end part there is unlike the rest—wistful and sincere. “Anyway,” he goes on quickly, “negotiations with Winterfell continue well and apace, as far as I can tell. But slowly due to both my grandfather’s patient and exacting nature as well as the distance between the two estates.”
He looks to her with a sideways glance. “You know, I’ve always been intrigued by the North. It’s age and forbidding mystery, all of that. But by gods old and new, did it really have to be quite so _big_?”
It is those last words that bring first a smile to Aisling’s lips and then lure forth a chuckle from her as well. “Not only that, but hardly a place that an adventurous young man would spend a few months riding about in to learn the lay of the land. Too far between castles, too few tourneys, and not always the most hospitable weather either. I prefer it myself, though even if the mystery is a lure, I think I will keep myself to the right side of the Wall, at least.” She falls silent for a little then, before returning to the previous subject. “Well, it is good to hear that you have good odds of an arrangement that is satisfactory to everyone. It makes it easier.”
Seth echoes the chuckle through her description of the North, ducking his head briefly at the end. “Thank you, cousin.” He seems about to say more on the matter, but thinks better of it after tossing his peach up in the air and catching it deftly. Then it’s back to less personal matters. “I’ll admit that I’ve romanticized your country a bit, much as I did with Dorne before the war. Arid beauty, lush oases—exotic inhabitants! We were off to conquer paradise. Even so, I should very much like to see it. At the very least… well, at the very least I should like to see a true and proper living weirwood. It feels wrong that I’ve not so far. But first it was the tourney circuit with Balian, which rarely takes one North—and then there was Dorne. There’s just never been time.” Another pause before he notes dryly, “If you go beyond the Wall, you’ll need more than an escort—you’ll need an army. Snarks, grumpkins, great fur-covered giants, no? That’s a powerful curiosity you have, my lady.”
“Armies are for when you want to conquer something, not study something. Though I suppose a snark or a grumpkin might not want to be studied,” admits Aisling with a wry smile. “If you wed Lady Marian, you will be seeing some of the North, I would imagine. And you would certainly be welcome at the Rills, though I do not know if I would be there to welcome you. I daresay Lady Tilly hopes she will not see me there again if it can be avoided.” That there is no love lost between Aisling and her step-mother is all too plain. “For now, though, I ought to be making my way back. Uncle Henry is bound to be wondering if I took a longer ride than we had spoken of. A good day to you, cousin.”